In depth: driving agricultural efficiency with data

Working the soil, rearing cattle and dairy cows have always carried their share of uncertainty. Recently, farms in the UK have found they’ve had to diversify in a variety of ways, with farm shops, craft areas and even tourism just to keep afloat.

According to gov.uk about half of farms in the country get an average of £10,000 extra revenue with diversified activity.

And it seems that recently, farmers in Britain have truly been bearing the brunt of market uncertainty due to overseas imports, climate change and Brexit.

According to a Food and Farming Futures essay, agriculture accounts for 4.6 percent of global GDP and 27 percent of employment. Add to this the fact that farming production volumes have increased by 76 percent in the last 30 years, and farming must be acknowledged as an important worldwide resource and employer.

Because of this, it’s of real concern that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes some countries could halve their crop yields in the next 35 years.

Climate Change is the world’s biggest worry and one of the key principles of the Paris Agreement [1] is to promote food production while adapting to the current effects of the weather.

But, what if there was a way to assess a farm’s yield? What if there was a tool to track – in real-time – every aspect of a farming business, bypassing the weather and climate change effects making the business hyper-efficient and also boosting productivity?

This is exactly the technology that has been created by Glas Data, right here in Cornwall with the help of Launchpad.

Rob Sanders, co-founder of Glas Data

Rob Sanders is the CEO, and coming from a farming background, he’s extremely passionate about the role his software plays in creating sustainable farms.

Rob says being brought up in agriculture, he ‘had a look at the market and saw that while there were a lot of agriculture platforms, none of them were sharing any of their data. So we decided to find a solution to that.”

So, it’s clear that while there is a vast amount of information available to farmers, a lot of it is insignificant unless seen in context, which is where Glas Data comes in.

The tool they’ve created works using each farm’s individual data, and then assessing it against real-time inputs from every agricultural information source.

Colin Phillipson, co-founder of Glas Data

Farmers can eventually use the Glas Data software to monitor every single aspect of their business – from the water, to the soil, to the chemicals to the weather.

This would mean making farming a more effective business, and not so reliant on outside factors.

The technology doesn’t just work with crop yields and weather patterns. For example at a dairy farm, farmers would be able to predict if their cows have mastitis, which would negatively alter the quality of their milk. At any given time, it’s thought that 1-2 percent of cows have mastitis, which can severely affect a dairy.

Using the Glas Data analysis tool, farmers would be able to check the quality of the milk from each cow. If it’s found that a cow is at risk of mastitis, it can be treated before that cow is milked again, bringing the level of mastitis down and making a more efficient dairy farm.

According to Rob: “The farmers who are currently using our systems are really willing to engage and see a difference.”

Of course, like every company, there are teething issues; one of which is understandably farmers being afraid to try the technology.

But Rob says: “The way the agricultural sector is going, the smaller farms that don’t incorporate technology are not likely to succeed in their business. “

A comment that is echoed by HSBC’s Climate Change Strategist, Ashim Paun, who believes farming with technology is the only way to protect agricultural businesses.

According to Rob: “Cornwall is a surprisingly good example of modern faming in the UK. The county has a small amount of large farms and agricultural businesses that are using technology to grow their business”

Another tricky issue for the company is data-sharing, which the software ultimately relies on. While government sources are very accessible – if not always up-to-date – there are some companies that don’t always want to share their data. This makes it difficult to give a wholesome picture at the moment, but Glas Data hopes to use its stakeholders like major supermarkets as leverage. They might be able to put pressure on companies that don’t want to share their data, which would make information more freely accessible and help the efficiency of the country’s farming.

And how is doing this with Launchpad different to starting this business on your own?

‘There’s a lot more support than if we had started our business alone,” says Rob, “And the support we’ve received has been very valuable. It allows us breathing space to work out the business,” says Rob.

“Launchpad enabled us to go out there and try different things until we settled on agriculture. They also paid for two contract developers”

Now, the system has been through beta testing and is also in use in small measures, as the company has pulled in its first contract.

The way it works with Launchpad is each person gets put into a team of four, who you’ll start your business with. Each team gets given three ideas, which they do research and analyse to decide the one best suited to the team. This idea then gets pursued and finally turned into a business.

Like all businesses, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Rob says: “We identified that none of the ideas worked for us and decided we wanted to go into agriculture.  I already had some knowledge of the sector and just saw an opportunity. Launchpad helped us validate our idea.”

The group were well prepared.  “We did our research, created a business plan, presented it to Launchpad,” says Rob. “They looked at it, and saw that it was financially viable and helped us turn it into a reality.”

He says that being part of a very promising start-up is ‘really exciting’, but there is quite a bit of work that goes into it. 

“You have to put a lot of time and effort in. and of course, the monetary benefits come a long way into the future, but if you’re willing to work hard, then I think it’s worth it.”

It also seems like working with Launchpad and by proxy, significant stakeholders and investors gives Glas Data both the assurance and confidence to break effortlessly into the agricultural sector.

With this patronage, it’s no wonder Rob believes: “Success to us looks very like a multi- million pound turnover with an international presence.”


[1] The Paris Agreement is made up of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, which are the climate change action plans that most countries have created to show their priorities and procedures.

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